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Tuesday, 26 June 2018 04:16

Sinharaja Forest Reserve - 20th and 21st January, 2018

Theme
Trekking through the Sinharaja Forest Reserve on foot to observe and identify the flora and fauna of the reserve in its natural habitat.

Participants
A group of 21 nature lovers consisting of both members and non- members of the WNPS under the guidance of Mr. Rahula Perera as the resource person.

sinharaja01Travel Route
WNPS Head office, Battaramulla- E1 upto the Dodangoda Exit- Baduraliya- Kukuleganga- Kalawana- Weddagala- Kudawa Entrance, Sinharaja Forest Reserve

20th of January, 2018
The Sinharaja Forest Reserve bordering the Ratnapura, Galle and Matara Districts is a tropical evergreen rain forest. It houses an extremely rich biodiversity leading to it being declared a Man and Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989.

sinharaja02Entering the forest from the 'Kudawa Entrance' situated along the northwestern border of Sinharaja, the WNPS group set out on foot along the trek to Martin's Lodge, the place of accommodation for the duration of the stay.

The resource person Mr. Rahula Perera explained to the group that this trek had originally been used by logging vehicles during the time when selective logging was allowed within the forest. From a much broader and well- maintained road it has now deteriorated into a path that can be negotiated only on foot. He pointed out this transformation to show the distinction between protection as opposed to management and conservation. If the national policies had been fashioned on the latter approach the road would have been more accessible to researchers and visitors. He also pointed out the coniferous trees planted near the periphery of the forest reserve as a reforestation measure, stating that even though reforestation is a commendable exercise, mono-culture or the cultivation of a single species of tree is not a successful conservation measure.

Along the trek Mr. Rahula Perera pointed out the flora and fauna of Sinharaja such as 'Bambara wel' used in the harvesting of honeycombs due to their sturdy nature as well as 'Pus wel' and 'Waewel' or Rattan. He explained the role Macaranga, known as 'Kanda' in Sinhala, plays as a pioneer species. The leaves of this plant decays fast and enriches the bare soil on which it takes root, thereby enabling other species of plants to emerge. Once the bare soil becomes enriched with hummus the Macaranga itself however cannot thrive there any longer. Due to it being January, a relatively dry month for Sinharaja, there were only a few leeches to be seen.

The proprietor of Martin's Lodge, Mr. Martin Wijesinghe is from the area and has an expert knowledge of the Sinharaja forest, to the extent of being called 'Professor Martin'. During and after his tenure at the Forest Department he has whetted his knowledge of the forest by working with well-known researchers and academics as well. From the viewing deck at Martin's Lodge we were able to observe several Yellow Fronted Barbet, Yellow Browed Bulbul and Black Bulbul as well as a giant squirrel and a dusky striped jungle squirrel, a darker version of the squirrel that frequents home gardens.

sinharaja04Following lunch prepared by Martin's family themselves we set out along the jeep trek into the protected area of the forest. Along the way we observed Otocryptis or the Kangaroo Lizard as well as Paathra plants. Mr. Rahula Perera recalled that when preparing Paathra for consumption villagers usually boil it with gamboge also known as goraka, which neutralizes the carcinogenic chemicals that it contains. This traditional knowledge too is a part of Sinharaja that warrants recognition and conservation.

Taking a small break at the Research Centre we noticed a pair of jungle fowl or vali kukula rooting in the soil nearby, probably used to the presence of visitors nearby. This Research Centre within the reserve houses a tsunami warning system A highlight of this walk was the sighting of a pair of Frog mouth, an insectivorous owl endemic to the Indian Subcontinent. Interestingly, dried up elephant dung on the trek bore evidence of the presence of a few elephants within the forest reserve. Mr. Rahula Perera said that the fibers in the dung could be used to identify the diet of the elephants.

In the evening Mr. Rahula Perera explained about the 'multi species flock of birds', a phenomenon that can be seen in Sinharaja. In the face of limiting factors such as the availability of food resources and the gape width of each respective bird species, the multi- species flock has emerged as an optimization model for foraging. It also lessens the probability of being targeted by predators. Such a flock would be made up of a variety of species such as Scimitar Babbler, Crested Drongo, Laughing Thrush, Malkoha, Babbler, Black- naped Monarch and Blue Magpie.

21st of January, 2018
sinharaja05On the 21st we set out at sunrise along the jeep track from the entrance to the protected area keeping a lookout for birds. Mr. Rahula Perera stressed that keeping as silent as possible and being alert is essential for spotting birds and other animals. He pointed out a whitish mushroom known as 'Athuru Hathu' a local delicacy which would fetch a considerable sum in the market. A purple faced leaf monkey too could be observed hidden among the trees.

At the junction to the Mulawella Trail the group divided into three with one group deciding to climb to the Mulawlla Peak, another group choosing to take the route to the giant Navada tree, while the last group proceeded along the jeep track. We decided to take the 2.4 km trail to Mulawella. The trail wound up in a natural staircase of tree roots which made the climb somewhat easier. Along the trail we came upon 'Halmandiya Dola' a stream of clear water. Water skaters skimmed across its glass- like surface and the sunlight that strained in through the forest canopy created golden mesh like reflections on the stream-bed, disturbed only by an occasional ripple in the water. Once across the stream the trail became steeper and craggier. But when we reached the peak the difficult climb was proven to be worth it since at an elevation of 760m we could see the tree canopy of Sinharaja stretched out on all sides. On the way back we turned left at the Halmandiya Dola junction and took a different route.

On the jeep track back to Martin's Lodge we were able to collect and bring back some plastic bottles and polythene which had been irresponsibly discarded by visitors. A landmark outcome of this WNPS excursion to Sinharaja was the mobilization of some members to pursue a ban on polythene and plastic use within forest areas. Their advocacy resulted in the Wildlife Conservation Department and the Department of Forest Conservation imposing a ban on polythene and plastic usage within strict natural reserves, national parks, nature reserves, sanctuaries and forest reserves with effect from 4th February, 2018.

Our appreciation is extended to;
Resource person Mr. Rahula Perera
General Secretary- WNPS, Spencer Manuelpillai and Administrative Secretary- WNPS, George Thambapillai
Committee Member- WNPS, Vidya Abhayagunawardana
Amila ….. Project Officer, Diyakothkanda Reforestation Project

This Excursion report was compiled by Nillasi Liyanage.

Last modified on Tuesday, 26 June 2018 04:32